Deal on US Immigration Reform Remains Elusive

With three days to go before U.S. government funding runs out yet again, the path to an immigration deal remained murky on Monday, with President Donald Trump rejecting core elements of a bipartisan proposal put forward in the Senate.

“Any deal on DACA that does not include STRONG border security and the desperately needed WALL is a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted, restating some of his demands for approving a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.

“We’re building the wall. Believe me, we’re building the wall,” the president later emphasized during a speech in Ohio. “The ones that don’t want security at the southern border or any other border are the Democrats.”

Trump spoke out as Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware unveiled a proposal granting legal status to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama administration program Trump set for expiration next month.

The bipartisan bill seeks to boost border security but would mandate a study to determine the most effective means to do so — neither ruling out a border wall nor providing immediate funding for one, as Trump has demanded. Setting a goal of attaining “operational control” of U.S. borders by 2020, the proposed legislation mirrors a House bill that has dozens of co-sponsors of both political parties.

Immigrant rights groups praised the proposal for its limited scope, saying a bill that focuses on DACA and border security has a better chance of passing in Congress than comprehensive legislation addressing both legal and illegal immigration.

“Narrow gets it done. A radical and massive overhaul does not,” said Frank Sharry of Washington-based America’s Voice, which urges a swift path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

In his tweet, Trump noted that March 5, when DACA recipients lose protections from deportation, “is rapidly approaching.” He said Democrats “seem not to care about DACA. Make a deal!”

For their part, Democratic leaders signaled a growing resistance to key planks of the White House’s blueprint for immigration, including a reduction in legal immigration and prioritizing newcomers with advanced skills to benefit the U.S. economy.

“This is not an acceptable premise,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on CNN. “They (Trump and some Republican lawmakers) want to cut legal immigration into the United States of family members, some of whom have waited 20 years or more to join up with their families here.”

A continued impasse would put to the test a pledge by Senate Majority Leader McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. Last month, McConnell secured enough Democratic support to end a three-day partial government shutdown by promising to start a floor debate on a DACA fix if no bipartisan immigration agreement had been reached by Feb. 8, when federal spending authority expires once again.

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